Published on 11/22/2014, updated on 6/17/ 2021 as I go through my fourth month of lockdown. I’m trying to build grit and perseverance as I care for my two children and wife.
Life is funny. I remember looking out my new living room window one morning and seeing the Farallon Islands for the first time. Even on a sunny day, they sometimes don’t appear given they are 30 miles away. But everything was crystal clear this morning and I could see the island’s entire silhouette.
I distinctly remember thinking to myself, wouldn’t it be crazy if someone swam from the Farallon Islands to the San Francisco shore and grabbed a cheeseburger for lunch at Outerlands Restaurant?
Then that afternoon I saw on the news a man had just finished swimming from the Farallon Islands to the Golden Gate Bridge in 14 hours! What’s more, I knew the guy from my previous career in finance. Small world!
I reached out to Joe to have him share his incredible accomplishment of swimming in frigid 53-55 degree waters for 14 hours straight, starting at midnight. I’m constantly looking for motivation, and I just cannot believe Joe was able to persevere for so long. After two hours of swimming in 78 degree Hawaiian water I’m done!
For those who have a propensity to quit way too soon, please have a read. There are just too many people who never achieve their full potential due to not sticking things out.
Sam: What on Earth propelled you to take on such a task?
Joe: I started open water swimming after Pequot shut down (hedge fund). I started with smaller swims like Catalina and then the English Channel, but the Farallons was always the real challenge.
Sam: How many times did you try and fail? What kept you coming back for more?
Joe: I tried altogether seven times – I just thought that if I had the right conditions and right course I could do it, and I love swimming out in the ocean so I didn’t mind trying it again and again. It’s taken me three years to do this swim and I basically had to learn how to do it because since only one other person has successfully completed it so long ago, it had to be re-learned. You make a lot of mistakes that way.
Sam: What was some of the preparation and training you did before you made your first attempt?
Joe: A lot of pool and bay training. Honestly, for my last attempt I was probably the least trained up. What matters far more than the swimmer is the conditions. I had perfect conditions for the last swim.
Sam: Out of 100%, what percent do you think is mental? What percent do you think is physical if there were only these two attributes?
Joe: Between the two, mental is far more important. People can always do so much more physically than they think.
Sam: How much of success do you believe is just sticking things out for a long enough time? Why do you think similar people fail, and some people succeed beyond their wildest dreams? How much does luck play a role in success?
Joe: Its always better to be lucky than anything else. For this, luck plays a huge role because nature is the biggest factor and is incredibly variable. After that, sticking things out is easily most important. There are lots of swimmers who are not particularly talented who completed huge swims because they are stubborn. There are lots of talented ex-NCAA swimmers who never leave the pool. Talent may be over-rated.
Sam: I’ve gone diving in a 13 millimeter wetsuit in Monterrey before and it is absolutely freezing after about 40 minutes. How cold was the average temperature when you swam, and how did you not start stiffening up WITHOUT a wetsuit (Joe was only in swim trunks the entire time)? I know after about 1 hour in 50-something degree water, I can no longer move.
Joe: The water was 53-57 on this last attempt. I have done others under 50. Its cold and not comfortable, even in the mid-50s, but that is so much more civilized than the low 50’s. The key is regular feeding and keeping the heart rate up. You can move a lot longer then than you think. Warming up after the swim is incredibly painful. While swimming you don’t hurt because the blood flows from extremities to the core. But when you are out and warming up and blood starts to circulate, your colder blood hitting the core it really really hurts.
Sam: Were there times during the swim when you just wanted to give up and quit? How did you motivate yourself to keep going?
Joe: Lots. The realization that I had great conditions and didn’t want to do this again soon and pay my boat captain again kept me going.
Sam: If the water was 80+ degrees, how many more miles do you think you could have swam?
Joe: Hard to say. Then it’s a totally different swim. Have actually never done a long distance warm water swim. I’m helping a friend though who is trying to swim the sea of Cortez though. Its definitely easier to swim longer in warmer water.
Sam: As an investment analyst are there any parallels to your swim and managing money? Why has the hedge fund industry underperformed so poorly, yet gets paid so well?
Joe: There are parallels with swim – tons of pain, no clear reward and lots of discomfort, all self-inflicted for gains that end up being abstract. Only a small portion of the HF industry gets paid well – tournament economics means most of us get screwed. The entire money management industry is overpaid for what it provides – the hedge fund segment is just part of that super market. John Bogle is right.
Joe is being modest when he talks about having a tremendous amount of luck in his swim. Luck is him trying once and succeeding. But Joe succeeded only on his seventh try. I firmly believe that so much of success is putting yourself out there to eventually get lucky.
The other takeaway is that talent can only take you so far. I’ve met Joe plenty of times and he’s not particularly tall (around 5′ 9″) compared to Michael Phelps (6’4″), nor is he extremely ripped or fast. But Joe’s got sheer will. I like that he says “talent may be over-rated” and that “some ex-NCAA swimmers never leave the pool.” What a great analogy for pushing us beyond what we think is possible.
So many people complain how my net worth or savings projections are unrealistic. Yet, how many of these people have really tried pushing themselves to save as much as possible and build multiple income streams until they pass out at their desk every night due to exhaustion? How many people get up at 4:30am to work for several hours on their passion project before going to work for another 9-12 hours? How many people have actually tried to push their savings percentage to the max until they are literally just drinking water and eating crackers in order to achieve their goal?
My feeling is that naysayers already mentally tell themselves “no” before they even start. You’ve got to have the right money mindset to build wealth just like Joe had the right competitive mindset to swim for as long as it took to get to the other side.
Whenever I see someone over 60 years old working a minimum wage job, I get pumped to work harder. And now whenever the Farallon Islands appear outside my window, I’ll remember Joe’s incredible accomplishment in order to eat better, train harder, and persevere.
Related: The Secret To Your Success: 10 Years Of Unwavering Commitment
Readers, have you ever done something crazy and incredible like swim in freezing darkness for 30 miles like Joe? What are some of the things that help you persevere when times are tough? Do you think people are their own worst enemy sometimes?